A passion for politics, or simply a working knowledge of what is happening in one’s state does not have an age restriction. Just like a sport, a skill or any interest, exposing children to the political process while they are young will increase the chances of involved and informed future voters. The Oklahoma Capitol is an ideal place to take children of all ages and abilities for a hands-on learning experience. Here’s how to explore our Capitol with kids of all ages and abilities.
Infants and Toddlers
It’s never too early to expose your children to local government. But before children are old enough to experience what’s happening at the Capitol, they’ll enjoy the public art and unique architecture. Visitor parking is directly south of the Capitol building behind the Legislators’ assigned parking spots. Wearing your infant or bringing a stroller for your toddler will make the trip a little easier. Upon arrival, you’ll go through a metal detector and all bags are scanned. Liquids like bubbles are prohibited but snacks and bottles are approved for entry.
Taking a school-aged child to the Capitol is a wonderful opportunity to not only teach children about the basics of government but to also teach them how to advocate for issues important to them. DeLyn Rich is a local mom who advocates for issues impacting Oklahoma children and she takes her sons, 7 and 11, with her.
“I am attempting to plant the seed of involvement and political action, early” Rich said about visiting the Capitol with her kids.
While the public is welcome to visit their representative or senator’s offices at any time, parents can call ahead to request an appointment to guarantee a face-to-face. Allowing children to speak to their lawmakers shows them they have a voice that is just as important as everyone else’s.
In addition to meeting their lawmakers, self-guided and volunteer-led tours are available to families on weekdays. The volunteer-led tours begin on the first floor at the welcome center and take about 45 minutes. They begin on the hour between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
As adolescence begins, teenagers inch closer to becoming registered voters. It is imperative they understand the importance of an informed vote, especially in Oklahoma. Although record numbers turned out for the 2016 presidential election, Oklahoma consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states in the country for voter turnout. The 2018 Legislative Session runs from February through May, giving teenagers an opportunity to sit in the gallery and watch their government at work. The House sessions typically start at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The daily agenda for the House floor can be accessed online in order to verify any changes in schedule.
Additionally, high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are encouraged to apply to the Oklahoma House of Representatives High School Page Program. If selected, the teenager will work for one week as a Page assisting the legislators and working in the House Chamber. To apply, interested parties should contact their local representative’s office.
All children should have the opportunity to visit the Capitol, regardless of need and/or ability. Erin Taylor works at the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council. She has a son with additional needs and she’s a regular advocate at the Capitol.
“I think part of my parenting job is to raise good citizens and that means showing them how the government works,” Taylor said. “Legislators need to meet a kid like mine so they can see he is filled with tremendous potential, but that we must fund supports so he can achieve that potential.”
Josh Fearing, a special education teacher in Norman, agreed. He takes students in grades 6, 7 and 8 to the Capitol to teach them about self-advocacy.
“It is absolutely vital for lawmakers to see and get to know all of their constituents,” said Fearing. “When kids with disabilities advocate for themselves and meet legislators, it shows our lawmakers that ‘disability’ issues are people issues with a real face and real impacts.”
The Capitol offers a number of services to visitors with disabilities. Interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing are available with a 48-hour notice. Constituents can meet with their legislators in ADA compliant conference rooms that are available on a number of floors. All documents can be made available in large print or braille. For more information, contact the House of Representatives ADA Coordinator Jennifer Shockley at 405-521-2711.
[Editor’s Note: Find more ideas for age-specific adventures at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/ages-stages.]